Preview: Challenging Schedule Continues as SCSU Faces the Gophers

(Photo Rob LaPlante)

St. Cloud, MN – The challenging schedule continues for the #2 ranked SCSU Huskies as they face the #4 ranked University of Minnesota Gophers in a home and home series this weekend. This will be the first meeting between the squads since December 29, 2019, when they faced off in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis. It will only be the second time they have faced the Gophers since former SCSU head coach Bob Motzko and assistant Garrett Raboin departed for the Gophers following the 2017-18 season. Much like last weekend vs the MSU Mavericks, bragging rights will be secondary to crucial Pairwise points which will be on the line after the dust settles this weekend.

We’ll also see another battle of the Brodzinski brothers as Easton and Bryce lead their respective teams into this key series. We’ve seen it in prior years with older brothers Jonny and Michael and for sure family bragging rights will be on the line for one of the first families of Minnesota hockey this weekend.

The game will also feature another tandem of brothers competing with SCSU defenseman, Nick Perbix, and UMN forward Jack Perbix on opposite ends of the ice.

#2 SCSU Huskies (3-1-0)  vs  #4 UMN Golden Gophers  (2-0-0) 

TV: Bally Sports North (Fri) | Fox 9+ (Sat)
Live Broadcast Stream: Big Ten Plus (Fri) | NCHC.tv (Sat)
Radio/Stream: KNSI 1450 AM/99.3 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: 3M at Mariucci -Minneapolis (Fri) Herb Brooks National Hockey Center (Sat)
When: Fri/Sat; October 15/16: 7:37 PM CT (Fri) 6:07 PM CT (Sat)

2021-22 CenterIceView Road Trip Guide

Chase Brand (Photo Prout)

Last Time Out

The Huskies faced one of the top goaltenders in college hockey last weekend on the road vs the top-ranked MSU Mavericks with mixed results. On Friday, despite hitting the post twice and having numerous goalmouth opportunities, the Mavericks Dryden McKay held firm earning his 26th career shutout in a 1-0 win. On the other end of the ice, the Huskies David Hrenak was solid as well yielding only a man-advantage goal in the loss.

On Saturday, in front of a capacity crowd, the Huskies exploded out of the blocks scoring twice in the first six minutes and never looked back in a 3-1 win. Goal scorers included Nolan Walker and Mason Salquist with even-strength goals, and Veeti Miettinen with a second-period power-play goal. Hrenak again was strong in the goal stopping 22 of 23 shots. His shutout was spoiled by an extra attacker goal by MSU with slightly over three minutes remaining in the contest.

The Gophers hosted Atlantic Conference opponent, Mercyhurst University and swept the Lakers by scores of 7-4 and 5-3. However, it wasn’t an easy weekend for the Gophers who carried a one-goal lead into the third period on Friday before outscoring the Lakers 4-2 in the 3rd period in the 7-4 final. Freshman, Matthew Knies scored twice to lead the Gophers.

On Saturday,  the Gophers were tested severely, falling behind 2-0 early and behind by a goal entering period three. Bryce Brodzinski scored twice in the final period for his third goal of the weekend to best the Lakers by a 5-3 score and sweep the weekend.

Kevin Fitzgerald, Mariucci Classic 2019 (Photo Prout)

Head to Head 

Since the 1990-91 season, the Huskies have faced the Gophers 102 times with the Gophers carrying a 56-34-12 advantage. However, since the teams departed the WCHA after the 2012-13 season, the Huskies carry a 6-5-0 advantage. The Huskies are 9-11-0 in the last 20 games, 6-4-0 in the last ten, and 3-2-0 in the last five.

As mentioned, the last meeting between the teams was on December 29, 2019, with the Gophers upending the Huskies by a 4-1 score in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic.

Gophers Upend Huskies 4-1 in Mariucci Classic 

Jaxon Nelson (Photo Prout)

University of Minnesota Notes

Former SCSU head coach Bob Motzko and former SCSU player and assistant coach Garrett Raboin return to face the Huskies this weekend. In their only previous meeting with the Huskies, they are 1-0-0. Motzko is in his fourth year with the Gophers and it appears his influence has been paying off with a 60-37-11 record. After a near .500 record his first two seasons, the Gophers took off in 2020-21 with a 24-7-0 record and their first trip to the NCAA tournament since the 2016-17 season. He also captured the B1G Ten conference tournament last season.

An experienced team, they roster 16 upperclassmen but are the 6th youngest team by average age. They also roster the most NHL draft picks in college hockey with 15.

Goaltending

Fifth-year senior and 2016 Carolina Hurricanes draft choice Jack LaFontaine is in his third season with the Gophers after transferring from the University of Michigan.  He’s been a workhorse for the Gophers playing in 29 of 33 games last season and 56 of 72 games since the 2019-20 season.

LaFontaine has a career mark of 38-27-7 and a GAA of 2.50 and SV% of .917 with 5 shutouts. The 2020-21 Mike Richter Award winner for top collegiate goalie also earned B1G First Team All-Star, West All-American, and was a Hobey Baker finalist.

LaFontaine is backed up by junior Justin Close and first-year Brennan Boyton.

Forwards 

The Gophers return a substantial amount of offense from last season with 72 goals (tied for 5th) and 212 points (4th). Even so, they had a number of departures from last season including leading scorer, Sampo Ranta, who signed with the Colorado Avalanche, Scott Reedy, who signed with the San Jose Sharks, and transfers Brannon McManus (Omaha) and Nathan Burke (Bowling Green).

Nevertheless, they return five of their top eight scoring forwards from last season including seniors Sammy Walker (13-16-29), Blake McLaughlin (12-16-28), and juniors Ben Meyers (12-16-28), Jaxon Nelson (5-10-15), and Bryce Brodzinski (8-6-14).

Add into the mix highly-touted forwards Tristan Broz (Pittsburgh Penguins), 6’3″ 205 pound forward Matthew Knies (Toronto Maple Leafs), Chaz Lucius (Winnipeg Jets), and Aaron Huglen (Buffalo Sabres) and they’ve restocked the shelf quite nicely.

Finally, an added bonus was the addition of two-time Colorado College captain and transfer Grant Cruikshank. He brings with him 30 goals and 15 assists for 45 points over three seasons for the Tigers.

Defense

The defense is experienced with good depth including five upperclassmen. Junior Jackson Lacombe leads the group and was a B1G First Team All-Star and West All-American last season. The Anaheim draft choice provides the most offense of this unit with 4-17-21 last season.

Other NHL draft choices include defensive-minded senior Ben Brinkman (Dallas Stars), first-round draft choice, and junior  Ryan Johnson (Buffalo Sabres), and sophomores Brock Faber (LA Kings) and Mike Koster (Toronto Maple Leafs). Junior Matt Staudacher has appeared in 67 games for the Gophers.

When you get beyond Lacombe and Johnson they haven’t produced a lot of offense but are mobile and highly-touted and were +88 last season.

There is not a single first-year player on defense this season.

Team Statistics 

Record 2-0-0
Pairwise Record 2-0-0 (0-0)   1.000
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 12 / 6.00
Goals Against 7 / 3.50
Power Play 57.1%
Penalty Kill 66.7%
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.62″ / 191.9 lbs.

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud State University Notes 

The 2020-21 national runner-up Huskies have the luxury of minimal departures from last season. They did see the departure of blue-collar players Will Hammer and Jared Cockrell (both of whom would have been 26 this season) who were part of a highly successful checking line and provided respite for the top three lines. Otherwise, the entire team is back sans defenseman, Tyler Anderson who logged 15 games and is pursuing medical school at the University of Manitoba. Team additions outweigh the departures and that’s what gives a great deal of optimism for the 2021-22 season.

Goaltending

Goaltending continues to be a strength with veterans David HrenakJaxon Castor, and Joey Lamoreaux all returning. Hrenak returns for his fifth season and his career includes 115 games, 2.41 GAA, .909 SV%, and 12 shutouts. Backups Castor and Lamoreaux could be starters on many other teams but only saw action in seven games last season.

Forwards

At forward, the team returns a whole lot of experience with six seniors and five juniors. They return the top eight goal scorers and point producers including linemates Veeti MiettinenJami Krannila, and Zach Okabe who produced a combined 28 goals and 69 points. Also returning is senior Nolan Walker who had a breakout year on offense with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points. Easton Brodzinski finished the season as the team’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals but sustained a fractured femur in the Boston College semi-final finishing his season. However, he made a triumphant return to the ice last weekend scoring two goals, and was named the first star of Friday’s contest. He also passed the 100 career point mark last weekend.

Fifth-year senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald decided to return and he’s a key component of the offense and special teams and had an explosive game on Friday with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Seniors Micah Miller and Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and juniors Chase Brand and Kyler Kupka are others that will be key contributors and are expected to bury the puck more this season. Joe MolenaarThomas RoccoJack Johnston, and newcomers Mason Salquist, Robert Morris transfer Aiden Spellacy and Ryan Rosborough will be vying for ice time as well.

Nick Perbix (Photo Prout)

Defense

The defense is deep and talented and led by senior captain Spencer Meier and NCHC preseason all-league team pick and senior Nick Perbix. Perbix had a breakout season in 2020-21 posting 7 goals and 16 assists and was plus-eight. Seamus Donohue, a fifth-year seniorwas a Michigan Tech transfer, meshed well with Perbix, and logged a ton of minutes. Luke JaycoxBrendan BushyOndrej Trejbil, and Brady Ziemer are all experienced veterans that bolster the strength of a defensive unit that finished the season +41 last year.

Newcomers include two-year USHL veteran Josh Luedtke and Minnesota Wild draft choice Jack Peart who was paired with Perbix last weekend. Both are puck movers and will change the dynamics and personality of this defense.

Team Statistics

Record 3-1-0
Pairwise Record 3-1-0 (0-0)   .750
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 17 / 4.25
Goals Against 4 / 1.00
Power Play 47.4%
Penalty Kill 80.0%
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.93″ / 183.0 lbs.

Game Prospectus

This should be another intriguing early-season battle for the Huskies. Both teams showcase a boatload of talented players and a number who should be future NHLers. The storyline also includes the brothers Brodzinski and the brothers Perbix competing on the opposite sides of the ice.

The Huskies faced perhaps one of the stiffest challenges they will see all season in the Mavericks last weekend and should be well-prepared for the contest with the Gophers. The Gophers had mixed results in their first weekend of play vs Mercyhurst having to resort to third-period heroics in each game to finally dispatch the Atlantic Conference’s Lakers. At times, they showed explosiveness on offense but also some susceptibility on the defensive end of the ice.

Perhaps the most dynamic players for the Gophers last weekend were junior Bryce Brodzinski who scored three times and freshman, Matthew Knies, who scored twice and who showed uncharacteristically strong play for a player in his first two collegiate games.

Both teams move the puck well on the power play and it’s advisable for both teams to have some discipline to avoid the man-advantage. The Gophers tend to use Bryce Brodzinski much like the Huskies use Easton Brodzinski on the power play utilizing his big-time wrist shot from inside the circle which is a Brodzinski trait.

The goaltenders are experienced and will be tested this weekend. The Huskies Hrenak appears bigger, stronger, and more mature in his fifth season and didn’t allow an even-strength goal to the potent Mavericks last weekend. LaFontaine is tough to beat when he’s on his game making this an interesting goaltender duel.

Both teams will showcase some very talented newcomers in Peart and Salquist for the Huskies and Knies, Broz, Lucius, and Huglen for the Gophers. Transfer players Grant Cruikshank (Colorado College) and Aidan Spellacy (Robert Morris) should also play a role in this series.

The Huskies have tremendous outside speed and they’ll put the Gophers defense to the test this weekend.

If Sam Hentges is still out of the lineup due to injury, you’ll most likely see both Mason Salquist and Adian Spellacy on a line with Joey Molenaar. This line was outstanding on Saturday vs MSU.

It’ll be homecoming at SCSU on Saturday so expect a loud and excitable crowd at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

The Huskies will sport a throwback jersey for the Saturday home game.

(Courtesy SCSU Athletics)

 

 

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